Fishing activity on the uptick, could bring out more on opener May 9

There is more spring fishing activity than last year, and license sales are ahead of last year's pace. That could mean more anglers will venture out on local waters for the opener.
Anglers fought strong winds on Norway Lake during the 2016 opener. West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Fishing license sales are trending well ahead of last year at this time, and local bait shop dealers report they’re seeing an uptick in fishing activity.

Most attribute the increased fishing activity, at least in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic. More people have time for fishing, and more are looking for recreational opportunities close to home.

Will that mean there will be more anglers out on area waters on the fishing opener next weekend?

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The answer is a definite “maybe.”


First of all, it will depend on the weather. Jonathan Haverly at Pete’s Surplus of New London, pointed out that weather conditions on the opener are always the biggest determinant of how many anglers get out. If the weather is foul, don’t expect to see a lot of fair weather anglers out there.

If the weather is fine, then yes, he expects to see more anglers. There has been an obvious increase in fishing activity this spring, he pointed out.

Jason Schmoll, at J & J Highway 71 Bait north of Willmar, is likewise happy to report that more people are getting out fishing this spring. He said he guesses that it will mean more people from the area will get out for the opener as well. He added that it is tough to know how many anglers who normally head north on the opener will stay home. He hasn’t heard a lot of anglers actually saying that they are going to change their usual plans for the opener to stay close to home.

Haverly noted that people with cabins are likely to open their seasons at those locations, no different than any other year.

And likewise, there’s good reason to believe that people who live outside the area but have seasonal campers or cabins in this area will be here to fish like other years. Ron Dilley, of Dilley’s Resort on West Norway Lake, said he expects to welcome as many seasonal campers this year as past years.

He said the directive by the governor not to allow overnight camping at this point will possibly have some impact on how many anglers from outside the area come to fish, however.

The Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau is not receiving inquiries from people outside the area looking to come for the fishing opener, according to Beth Fischer, executive director of the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

At the least, it's very likely that more interest in fishing by local residents will keep the lakes busy. Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, pointed out that license sales are well ahead of last year at this time. Individual fishing licenses sales were up 52 percent, from 70,149 to 106,600, according to data he received from the DNR earlier in the week.


The border waters of Minnesota-South Dakota might give us a hint of what to expect in terms of angler mobility on the opener. The walleye season is continuous on the border waters.

There’s been heavy pressure on Lake Traverse, where angling has been good for walleyes, according to Chris Domeier, fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Ortonville. He said a fair amount of the anglers are traveling from the Breckenridge and Wahpeton area.

He’s seen boats in Appleton heading west to Big Stone, but the numbers haven’t been high. Then again, fishing on Big Stone has been hit or miss, he added.

Overall, he also anticipates more fishing activity this year. License sales are up. And, he pointed out, with no opportunities for baseball and other sports at this point, more people are turning to fishing for recreation.

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